Wednesday, November 16, 2016

NARNIA: THE WHITE WITCH

One of my favorite projects that I've worked on over the years was the three Chronicles of Narnia movies. They were my introduction to boarding live action films after a long career in comics and animation. While most of the projects I've worked on I have a hard time finding any of my own fingerprints, in that first Narnia movie I can see something of myself in almost every scene.

The job paid very well; I wound up working in Aukland NZ and in Prague, both of which were almost paid vacations for me. Working with Andrew Adamson and Mark Johnson was a delight.
There were so many good experiences with so many different folks. 

While most of the crew moved on to different assignments and I've lost contact with them, many of the storyboards artists I still get together with from time to time: Trevor Goring, Tom Nelson,
Joel Venti, young Rico De'Lassandro and Jim Biehold and a few others. In fact yesterday Tom and Joel and I met for a lunch in Burbank. 

Below is one of my favorite sections that I boarded, where Edmund (Andrew was always chastising me because I invariably called him Edwin)  has wandered into Narnia and is wandering around when he suddenly runs into the infamous White Witch. C.S. Lewis always described her with jet black hair and very beautiful. At the time I always used scrap of Nicole Kidman as a model , because that's who we thought might wind up being cast in the role. When I learned that they were going with Tilda Swinton I was a bit disappointed...until I actually saw her in the film. An amazing performance by an amazing actress.





















These drawings were then numbered and put together in an animatic and a scratch track (voices and sound effects) added. Traditionally you added little arrows to indicate where characters were moving, and other necessary screen direction, but the animatics obviated all that. At the time, 2003, this was all an entirely new approach to making films. All in all it was a great experience.

Friday, November 4, 2016

FRANK FRAZETTA AND ALEX TOTH: EC ARTISTS




In a discussion at ProCon years ago Gil Kane expostulated that from the time of their inception in the mid 1930s the comic book ascetic moved forward at a steady progression, perhaps reaching it’s peak in the early 50’s with EC comics. While Gil felt that DC comics tried to maintain those standards with the Silver Age superhero phase, things definitely started going downhill with the advent of Marvel. While Stan Lee’s productions were never short on entertainment, the quality of the artwork and stories were designed for instant gratification rather than any lasting impression. No doubt that point could be argued ad infinatum without reaching any satisfactory conclusion, and I’m certainly not up for the battle. 

Let’s look instead at two of the greatest stories published by EC, Squeeze Play (Shock Suspense Stories #13 1954) and Thunder Jet (Frontline Combat #8  1952). The company had it’s own stable of magnificent free-lancers like Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, and Al Williamson to mention the most prominent. They also managed to occasionally sneak in a small piece of brilliance by  some of the best in the business at the time: Joe Kubert, Bernie Krigstein, and the artists on the two stories presented today, Alex Toth  and Frank Frazetta .

Alex Toth remains a bit of an enigma to fandom. He was established early in his career as an enfant terrible with his remarkable drawing and storytelling ability and fiery personality. Often one to burn bridges, Alex left the New York comics scene and moved to LA, where he became a force in animation, while still doing the occasional comic job. Artists appreciated the magnificence of his work, but his minimalistic approach was never popular for the most part with fans. 

In Thunder Jet you can see Alex abandon completely the rather busy rendering style he had used at DC comics in the mid to late 40’s and use simple black and white shapes to define the images. In part it was an homage to one of his heroes that he often raved about, Noel Sickles. Alex simply updated Noel’s bi-planes of Scorchy Smith to the modern jet.  The job is a design tour de force. And the cinematic style he uses in his storytelling, he would perfect lated in his animation boards.  This job was written by Harvey Kurtzman, who was usually a bit more anti-war in his point of view. Instead, the tone is definitely more John Wayne, gung-ho…certainly an approach Alex was more comfortable with. I wonder if Alex did his own editorial changes before he turned the job in?








Frank Frazetta is best known for his gut level adventure and fantasy paintings, as well as he work in film with Ralph Bakshi. He also put in a stint working for the infamous Al Capp on Little Ablner. His paintings for book covers and movie posters have never been matched for their sheer energy. While Frazetta had been honing his painting skills since his childhood, comics were still his main source of income at this time.

In earlier stories, continuity had not been Frank’s strength, but in Squeeze Play that all disappears. While Toth had opted for simplicity, Frazetta instead offers us the ultimate in the use of line for rendering in a style reminiscent of Charles Dana Gibson, Joesph Clement Coll and Frank Godwin. He draws a wonderful likeness of Jimmy Cagney as the protagonist, and the girls in the story have a sense of realism that was rarely seen in the medium. Most importantly, the mood captures the post-war cinema verities style presenting us with a crime story unlike any seen before. 







A side note on this job is that it was originally slated for Al Williamson, who turned it down when he realized he would have to draw all those roller coasters…and thus it was passed on to Frazetta. Of course, the night before the story was due, Frank called Al for help in meeting the deadline. And like any good friend, he gave Williamson the task of finishing all the backgrounds that included roller coasters. 

My introduction to both the stories was in a volume of EC artwork produced by Russ Cochran (EC Portfolio #2 1972). I was highly influenced by the jobs. At the time, Kubert, Wood, Kirby and Williamson were my main focus, but after this I started looking at more of what both Toth and Frazetta did in comics and it certainly changed my work a good bit. It also moved me a bit further away from traditional superhero comics, and into cinematic storytelling, all of which was very helpful when I moved to LA myself and started my career in animation and film.  Enjoy. Mike 





Sunday, October 9, 2016

N.C. WYETH



N.C. WYETH

By Mike Vosburg

Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn what the critics say, Roy Lichtenstein and his ilk couldn’t wash out N.C. Wyeth’s brushes. 

Critics don’t know how to deal with illustrators. They’re not real painters. They’re not historians.They are usually representational in their approach, and as such could be replaced by photographers. They are not writers who create their ideas. In fact the illustrator is a combination of all these people. The worst sin is that the illustrator works for hire. Consequently, he has no art-soul. 

Bullshit. Art is the human celebration of the infinite and it will happen in the meanest of places at the unlikeliest of times to whoever has the courage and the honesty and the drive to let it happen. N.C. Wyeth let it happen to him. 




As a child growing up in Pontiac,Michigan,, a weekly trip to the library was part of my TV-less family agenda. After quickly grabbing a handful of mysteries iac,Michigan, a weekly trip to the library was part of my TV-less family agenda. After quickly grabbing a handful of mysteries for the week, my next move was to rush from Copper to Porter to Stephenson shelves marked in my memory from previous visits, to pull volumes of Scribner’s Classics, illustrated by one N.C. Wyeth. And I sat and stared. I had started this at an early age; when I was no more than four or five my mother read to me portions of Treasure Island everyday and I vividly remember the shot of the blind beggar,Pew, about to be run down in the road. 






Those pictures touched a place in my soul. The green of the forests. The glint of light on a cutlass. The nobility of the figures. They spoke of worlds to me that half a century of the brutal indoctrination of reality hasn’t yet quite destroyed. Staring at Uncas and Allen Breck Stuart and William Wallace made me realize that we had worlds inside us as well as out and the landscape of the imagination was infinitely more interesting than the mundane factory town I lived in. 








Look at the translucent light in the water of “The Wreck of the Covenant” in Kidnapped...the rats scurrying up the staircase in “The Black Arrow”...the solemnity of the handshake in that same book...Magua kidnapping Alice in “The last of the Mohicans” where between a blue sky and a sunlit glade a half dozen slaughtered women lie. You can’t take your eyes off that bloody tomahawk stuck in a tree.”The Battle of Gen Falls”...Uncas Slays a Deer”...”Captain Bill Bones”...”Old Pew”...”The Hostage”... If you haven’t seen these books and pictures, track them down. What you’ve missed!







Years later, a bit more educated, I can see the influences of Rembrandt’s lighting and the brushwork of the impressionists and the absolute boldness of the tecnique. But the artistry and tecnique were always secondary. The primal soul that shouts from every one of those pictures is what sets it apart as a work of art. 

“...and I in turn have inherited that strange love for things remote, things delicately perfumed with that sadness that is so exquisitely beautiful.” NC Wyeth

Influenced by his mother’s strong intellectual and emotional heritage Newell Convers Wyeth was encouraged by her in his art, while his father was concerned about his inability to make his living. It was never a problem.







At the age of 20 Wyeth began studying with Howard Pyle in Wilmongton,Delaware. Pyle, who often told his students: “It’s easy enough to learn to draw, it is very difficult to learn to think.”, was the ideal  teacher for him. (A quote I keep on my desk to this day.) Their  methods, interest, and personalities were similar. Pyle encouraged not only dedication to examining the exterior in detail when painting but also the essence of the picture being made.

Within a year N.C. was on the cover of Saturday Evening Post. He went west and worked and lived . His reputation grew. He returned east, married
(his wife is the model in many of his paintings) moved to Chadds Ford,Pennsylvania and started a family. His reputation continued to grow.

In 1911 Scribner’s issued a version of “Treasure Island” with his illustrations. Its success was immediate and overwhelming and Wyeth’s stature continued to grow as he replaced his late teacher as the preemminent illustrator in America. 






Wyeth’s attention to art suffered at times because of his devotion to his family, but look at the results: Henreitte and Carolyn both became well known painters. Nathaniel became an engineer whose inventions have affected contemporary lives throughout the world. Ann became a  renowned composer. Andrew, and his son Jamie, have continued the art tradition, their reputations perhaps unfairly overshadowing N.C.

In 1945,  N.C. Wyeth and his grandson Newell were killed tragically when their car stalled on a railroad track and was struck by a train. 

In his later years N.C. Wyeth continually felt his frustration at not making his mark as a great artist. As with the critics, he didn’t see his illustrations as important. Like his son Andrew, I disagree completely. You can visit the MOMA and the MOCA and amid the deserving Pollack’s and Miro’s you’ll also find suit after suit  of the Emperor’s New Clothes on display. Given the opportunity I’d be with the rest of the kids at the Brandywine River Museum looking at a truly great American artist: Newell Convers Wyeth.



(The Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum has two Wyeth paintings in their permanent collection. Give them a look.)